Patrick O’Hearn

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Patrick O’Hearn was Frank Zappa’s bass player from 1976 to 1978.
   Patrick plays on many of the ‘classic’ late 1970s Zappa albums, appears in the movie Baby Snakes (1979), and can be heard on the posthumous lives releases Philly ’76 (2009), Hammersmith Odeon (2010) and Halloween 77 (2017).
   After leaving Zappa, he worked with Mark Isham and Peter Maunu in Group 87. They made two Brian Eno-influenced records – Group 87 (1980) and A Career In Dada Processing (1984) – the first of which featured Zappa alums Terry Bozzio and Peter Wolf as guests.
   In 1980, Patrick formed the band Missing Persons with former Zappa guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, keyboard player Chuck Wild, and Bozzio and his vocalist then-wife, Dale.
   Since then, he has become an acclaimed new-age artist, making solo albums and composing soundtracks for movies and television. You can check out his music at
www.patrickohearn.com

   When I heard that Patrick would be reuniting with Terry Bozzio and Cuccurullo at this year’s Zappanale, I emailed Warren for confirmation. He told me, “Terry contacted me and that was that. I’ve been dying to do something with them, and here it is. We’ve been working out all the details. All is finalised.”
   Having previously interviewed Warren and Terry, I thought now would be the optimum time to pounce on Patrick.

 

Terry Bozzio told me that recording overdubs for The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution was effectively your audition for Frank. What are your memories of that first session?
I was on tour with saxophonist Joe Henderson. We were playing a week of dates at a club in Los Angeles. Terry invited me to drop by the studio where he and Frank were working – they’d start around 6 p.m. and go ’til around 6 a.m.
   So, one night I dropped by after the last set with Joe. I had my upright bass with me, it was the middle of the night and I didn’t want to leave it in my car parked on the street. So I hauled it into the studio’s foyer, looking for a place to stash it, and it just so happened that Terry and Frank were standing there on a break having a coffee.
   Terry introduced me to Frank and within a few minutes Frank asked me if I would be willing to play some upright bass on a track that they were currently working on. I enthusiastically agreed and was ushered into the studio, whereby the engineer begin setting up mics and getting a sound.
   In no time at all, the tape was rolling and I was improvising to a very interesting track: tempo changes; key and time signature changes; unusual transitions. It was unlike music I’d played before and it was pretty damn fun!
   Frank seemed satisfied with the results and asked me if I played electric bass guitar. I told him I did but that I didn’t have my electric with me. He asked me to come back the following night after I was through at the club and lay in some bass guitar. I asked him if I might have a cassette of the track. One was made and I stayed up the rest of the night and well into the day making a chart and trying to learn the piece.
   I returned the following night and we recorded the electric bass guitar. Frank and Terry came out of the control room and approached me in the studio. Frank asked me, “Do you need a job?”my tour with Joe was ending and I had nothing else lined up. I said, “Yes, I do.” Frank extended a handshake and said, “Congratulations, you’re hired – effective immediately.”
   It was good fortune, and a great opportunity.

 

So did you replace all of Dave Parlato’s bass work on the released recording?
If I did replace any of Dave Parlato’s bass work, I was never made aware of it.

 

Okay. Have you heard Philly ’76? Do you think Frank would have released the recording of Advance Romance during which your bass rig packed in?
Yes, I’ve heard it. And sure, it was a live concert. A brief technical difficulty occurred with the bass rig. The crew swiftly remedied it and the show rolled on. I’m glad that they didn’t edit out that segment when creating the album.

 

Do you know if Lady Bianca sings polyphonically? – there are moments on that album that sound like it.
I don’t know. I do know that she has a rich, powerful voice.

 

True. What are your recollections of performing on Saturday Night Live in 1976, and the subsequent In New York shows?
I have fond memories of the ’76 SNL experience. The cast members were brilliant. Howard Shore’s ‘house band’ musicians were brilliant – which as I imagine you know were enlisted, with the addition of trumpet and saxophonist Brecker Brothers, and off-camera NBC announcer Don Pardo, to play the live Zappa In New York shows. It was all very fun and exciting. New York City’s Times Square still in its gritty Taxi Driver period, long before becoming family-friendly Disney-esque. Lots of laughter, energy, good vibes, and great playing.

 

For sure. Have you had a chance to listen to all of the recently released Halloween 77 shows? If so, what was your reaction now to your playing then?
I have not heard them yet. I used to have several of them on cassette tapes decades ago – the front-of-house board tapes. But they’re long gone. In the mid 1970s after I joined Frank’s band, I began playing my bass guitars closer to the instrument’s bridge with my right hand. This resulted in a more articulated but thinner sound. (I pluck the strings with my fingers and not with a pick), By the 1980s I was once again playing much closer to the end of the neck, away from the bridge, returning to a fuller, warmer tone. It’s how I started as a youth and how I continue today. Tone is very important to me, and playing fewer notes I suppose.

 

Well today, Halloween 77 – and your playing on it – sound fantastic.
   In his memoir, Of Course I Said Yes! The Amazing Adventures Of A Life In Music, Arthur Barrow says Frank told him that he fired you and Terry because you were taking too many liberties with his arrangements – instead of playing the parts he had given you. That doesn’t seem to ring true to me – do you think that was Frank’s way of getting Arthur to play it straight?
 Terry and I were not fired: we left the band in order to start our own group. The 1978 European tour had concluded and Frank would not be touring again for another five or six months, so the time seemed right. Frank, although sorry to see us go, was understanding and supportive.

 

As I thought. Arthur’s least favourite question is, “Why were there two bass players in 1978?” What is your response?
Frank reached out to me in October of ’78, I believe, and asked if I’d be willing to join the band on the road for a few dates. Evidently there was tension between Arthur and the band members, and Frank thought I might add some moderating levity to the mix.

 

When you temporarily re-joined the band, what was it like to ‘jam’ with Vinnie Colaiuta after your years playing with Terry?
Playing with Vinnie was a blast. He’s a wonderful musician and a soulful chap.

 

What are your recollections of performing on Saturday Night Live in 1978?
My strongest memory is of Don Pardo stopping me in the NBC studio hallway before rehearsal and saying: “Pat! Where’s the men? Where’s the band!” He was referring to Terry, Eddie Jobson, Ruth Underwood, Ray White – the band members from 1976. I was the only familiar face to him from the earlier Zappa In New York outfit.
   Regarding the performance? It was good to see the SNL folks again, and watch all the excitement and energy that goes into live television sketch comedy. But overall it was a more subdued experience for me than the ‘76 show.

 

Frank had a number of guests join him on stage during your tenure: can you give me your impressions of them – firstly, L. Shankar?
Great musician and lovely man.

 

Flo & Eddie?
Funny and smart.

 

Sugar Blue?[i]
One of the best harp tones since Little Walter.

 

Roy Estrada?
Funny and eccentric.

 

Ralphe Armstrong?[ii]
Terrific bass player.

 

John Belushi?
Funny and highly creative.

 

And finally, Warren Cuccurullo?
Fantastic musician, highly creative, good friend.

 

Do you look back at your time with him and Terry in Missing Persons with fondness?
Absolutely.

 

When was the last time you spoke with Frank?
April of 1992 I believe. I was living in Atlanta at the time, but was in Los Angeles finishing work on a film score gig. Warren was in town, too (he lived in London at the time), as was L. Shankar and Terry. Gail thought it would be great to host a get together with us as well as other musicians Frank had worked with.  She threw a hastily arranged party. It was lively and great fun. Frank was energized and the spirits were high. The house was packed with family and friends. He played us several tracks he’d been working on; edits and excerpts of former concerts and studio tracks – like The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution – that were from different times and places, yet edited together as a collage. He was a Master at that. It’s the last time I saw him and the last time we spoke. It is a very fond memory.

 

It’s fair to say that bass has not been your main instrument for a number of years. Tell us about your life post-Frank and Missing Persons, as a new age composer.
I became interested in electronic instruments in the early ‘70s. By 1978 I began collecting some and before long I was fascinated by and immersed in making electronic music. I was signed to a label in 1984 and released my first solo album in 1985. I had not heard the term ‘new age’ but that was the genre my album was filed under in record stores. I continued to make albums and eventually was approached to do film and TV work. I did a fair amount of that from the late ‘80s through the mid ‘90s, then started a DIY vanity label and returned to album work, which I continue today.
   I never lost interest in or stopped playing bass – my focus just shifted to other areas from time to time.

 

Have you been approached by the Zappa Family Trust about playing with Frank’s hologram – would you be interested in doing so?
No, and I don’t think so. I loved playing with Frank. There was always a lot of lively spontaneity. It would be odd for me to relive those days with a hologram.

 

Okay. So what can we expect from the Bozzio-O’Hearn-Cuccurullo Power Trio at Zappanale?
Three of Frank’s former band members, ‘laying it down, carving it up, and serving it in thick slices’.

Can’t wait! Thanks for your time, Patrick.

 

Interview conducted on 5th February 2018.

 

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Photo of Patrick taken by Valentina, used with kind permission.

 

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[i] James Joshua "Jimmie" Whiting, an American blues harmonica player known for his work with the Rolling Stones - notably on their 1978 single, Miss You. In the late 1970s, Blue travelled to Paris where Mick Jagger reportedly found him busking on the streets. On 2nd February 1977, Zappa invited Blue to join him on stage at Pavillon de Paris.

[ii] Mahavishnu Orchestra bassist, 1973-1975.